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NOVEMBER 18, 2007: Thirty-Third Sunday of the Year

Readings: 

Malachi 3:19-20a
II Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

It's not difficult to predict an event the day after it actually takes place. But that’s often what the authors of apocalyptic literature do. We haven an example of their writing in today’s gospel periscope.

Luke composes his gospel at least 20 years after Jerusalem's 70 C.E. destruction. Both he and his readers are aware no temple stone has been left upon another stone for a long time. That's why it's easy for Luke's Jesus to accurately describe this event. The authors of Daniel and Revelation frequently employ similar "predictions" in their writings. Why?

Like all literature, we must read apocalyptic against the environment within which its authors and readers originally lived. In this case, against persecutions.

Along with all people suffering for their faith, Luke's community is faced with the unthinkable: "Does God really care about what's happening to us? Have we been deserted by the one person we rely on for help?" At this point in his gospel, Luke, like other apocalyptic authors, writes to assure his readers they haven't been abandoned. How could a God who accurately predicts the future not be intimately involved in what is happening to his/her people.

In Luke's situation, since Jesus knows about Jerusalem's destruction in advance, why would he walk out on his followers when they're facing a parallel destruction? Nothing happens by accident; nothing is outside the mind and will of God. "They will seize and persecute you," Luke's Jesus both warns and assures his disciples. "They will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name . . . . You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

The persecutions second and third generation Christians are experiencing are just as much in God's plan as Jerusalem's destruction.

It's usually not difficult to surface God's presence in our lives when things are going well. It's another matter when they're going badly. The disciple of Paul who wrote II Thessalonians zeroes in on some of those "badly" things.

Coming from a belief that communal living is one of the best ways to experience God's kingdom among us, the writer points out a few drawbacks to such a challenging endeavor - common to any group who attempts to share themselves and their belongings. The author's classic line: "If anyone (is) unwilling to work, neither should that one eat." Those who refuse to give themselves to others shouldn't be surprised when no one gives to them. Forming and sustaining communities is hard work, so hard we often sense we're more "persecuted" from within than from without. On many levels, imitating the risen Jesus in our real world is a painful experience.

That's why it's important to listen carefully to Malachi's words. We presume he's describing the same set of circumstances when he proclaims, "Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire. . . . But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays." in other words, the same sun which brings healing to Yahweh's faithful will bring destruction to Yahweh's enemies. The "heat" isn't the problem. It's how the "heat" is received that defines the situation.

Perhaps, when faith-conflicts arise, instead of complaining, we'd achieve more by exploring the many dimensions of those difficulties. Some might develop into the very circumstances which lead us to the salvation we long for.